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Muslims' citizen rights

NRC: A sinister political scheme

Published : Sep 25, 2019 07:00 IST

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A boy looks  out of the window as villagers wait to check their names on the final list of the NRC in Buraburi village in Morigaon district in Assam on August 31.

A boy looks out of the window as villagers wait to check their names on the final list of the NRC in Buraburi village in Morigaon district in Assam on August 31.

Shefali Hajong, a labourer whose name has been excluded from the final list of the NRC, poses for a picture at the site of an under-construction detention centre for illegal immigrants in a village in Goalpara district in the north-eastern State of Assam on September 1.

Shefali Hajong, a labourer whose name has been excluded from the final list of the NRC, poses for a picture at the site of an under-construction detention centre for illegal immigrants in a village in Goalpara district in the north-eastern State of Assam on September 1.

Rashtriya Bajrang Dal activists protest against alleged anomalies on the NRC list, in Guwahati on September 3.

Rashtriya Bajrang Dal activists protest against alleged anomalies on the NRC list, in Guwahati on September 3.

The National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Bill are apparently part of the larger political plan of the Sangh Parivar to deprive Muslims of their rights as citizens.

SATYA Prakash Agarwal, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member representing the Meerut Cantonment seat in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, is a personification of aggressive assertion when he says that it is only a matter of time before all the States in the country go through the “filtering process” ordained by the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). 

Talking to Frontline , he said that the reservation raised by the Assam unit of the BJP and its State government are about the operational deficiencies in the NRC process adopted there and not about the idea itself.

He said: “These operational deficiencies will be cleared and corrected as we move along. The important thing is to understand that the mandate given to the BJP by the people of this country through the emphatic electoral victories of 2014 and 2019 is also a clear directive to weed out illegal and criminal immigrants, who have infiltrated into our country in large numbers. Our party president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah ji  has also made this clear in unmistakable terms.” 

Agarwal, who had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah demanding the initiation of the NRC in Uttar Pradesh, added that there were lakhs of Bangladeshi immigrants living illegally in the country’s most populous State and that this had disturbed social equations in a big way. “I had raised this issue in the State Assembly as well. As far as Meerut is concerned, I have personally inspected the situation here, especially in Meerut South, and have found thousands of such intruders, almost all of them indulging in criminal activities. They stay in slums on the outskirts of cities, spreading filth, in material and moral terms. They shouldn't be allowed to stay in the country. Such people were issued identity cards by previous regimes. I have a clear plan on how to filter and weed out these elements as and when the NRC is brought in officially to Uttar Pradesh.” 

In a sense, Agarwal is an exception among BJP MLAs of the State because following the “NRC mess-up in Assam”, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and other top leaders of Uttar Pradesh BJP had given a general directive to legislators that individual pronouncements should not be made on the NRC and its implementation. The directive, apparently, was that all statements in this regard would be made only at the national level, especially through Amit Shah or persons designated by him. But Agarwal, considered to be one of the most ardent advocates of the idea of “social and communal filtering”, continues to make public statements, albeit qualifying it by adding that the party president has also spoken in similar terms. 

BJP insiders aver that the “prohibition” on public statements on the NRC has been enforced in other States, too, especially north Indian States, in the wake of the Assam NRC report, which excluded 19.06 lakh persons, with Hindus forming a majority of those who did not qualify to continue as residents of Assam and citizens of India. The reasoning for this so-called ban on public statements was linked to this very aspect of the Assam NRC report, where contrary to expectations and projections a high number of Hindus got disqualified. The NRC projections in July 2018 had it that prima facie  there were 40 lakh illegal migrants in Assam. 

 Amit Shah had claimed then that the BJP government was on track to root out every single illegal immigrant from the country. The premise of the party and the BJP governments at the Centre and in the State was that the majority of those who would be thrown out would be Muslims. But the final figures were completely out of tune with these projections. It is in this context, in August-September 2019, that the BJP leadership came to the conclusion that the final Assam NRC report had turned out to be a political and organisational embarrassment and hence some “tactical backtracking” was required. 

However, despite the ban on public pronouncements, contemporary discussions in the echelons of the BJP and the larger Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar revolve around the idea of citizenship and related elements. Frontline  was witness, in the third week of September, to one such discussion on the premises of Sri Ram Bhawan, the regional headquarters of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) located at Hussainganj in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. Leading it was a senior VHP functionary and his oration to a group of younger activists emphasised on to how the Sangh Parivar as a whole was getting closer and closer to fulfilling the Hindutva vision, originally drafted by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar nearly a hundred years ago. A gist of his presentation to the group as well as his later interactions with Frontline  could be summed up as follows. 

“The Hindutva treatise was formulated in 1921-22 and the concept of Hindu citizenship in Hindustan was the central component of the treatise. This definition stated clearly that two criteria of Hindutva, based on the concepts of ‘Fatherland’ and ‘Holyland’, have to be fulfilled for any person to be called a citizen of Hindustan. Fatherland denotes the geographical origin of the person’s forefathers and the Holyland, the land of the origin of the person’s religion. Thus, the Hindutva treatise defined that the followers of ‘Vaidicism, Sanatanism, Jainism, Buddhism, Lingaitism, Sikhism, the Arya Samaj, the Brahmo Samaj, the Dev Samaj, the Prarthana Samaj, and such other religions were of Hindustani origin, and constituted part of Hindu-dom.’ However, Indian Muslims, Christians, Jews, Parsis have to be excluded from the right to claim themselves as Hindustanis in spite of India being their ‘Fatherland’. Similarly, there may be many Japanese, Chinese and other nationals considering Hindustan as their ‘Holyland', but they cannot be considered as Hindu people because this land was not their Fatherland, that is the land of their forefathers.” 

The senior VHP functionary went on to add that both the NRC and the CAB were essentially founded on this concept.

During the discussions, it was also pointed out that the question of national language was also dealt with in detail in the Hindutva treatise. “Savarkarji was of the view that Sanskrit was the ‘holiest tongue of tongues’ among world languages and Hindi, which derived from Sanskrit and drew its nourishment from the most cultured and sacred language, should be the national language. He considered Sanskrit as the national language of the Hindu intellectual world and Hindi as the national Indian tongue of the lay community of Hindustan.” 

The VHP leader told Frontline  that many people might consider Amit Shah’s Hindi Divas  exposition on making Hindi the national language a tactic to create a controversy and divert public attention from the raging economic crisis in the country, but in its essence it followed the precept elaborated in the treatise of Hindutva. “Clearly, as we are reaching the centenary of the publication of Hindutva  in 2021-22, almost all aspects of the treatise are being addressed and taken forward concretely. Indeed, we are bound to face some hiccups and roadblocks as manifested through the Assam-NRC mess up and the intense public outrage against having Hindi as the national language from some quarters. But, we have faced even bigger impediments and greater challenges in the nearly hundred years of the Hindutva journey. We have overcome all that and now, we have the popular mandate to establish our social and political vision.”

What this “vision” means in practical terms is crystal clear from some of the provisions of the CAB. These provisions present a case for granting Indian citizenship to Afghan, Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals who are of Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist or Christian extraction and who had migrated to India without valid travel documents or with documents that had expired. Significantly, the citizenship regularisation process is not applicable to Muslims. 

One young VHP activist, who was part of the crowd that had assembled at the Lucknow office, told Frontline , half jokingly, that the CAB provisions could well be following one of the first slogans coined at the VHP foundation rally in 1964. The slogan that has persisted through the past five decades and gets raised from Sangh Parivar platforms from time to time is “ Pahle Kasai, Phir Isai ” (First Muslims, then Christians). In other words, the VHP plan is to first “set right” Muslims and later Christians. 

Whatever the concrete plans and its nuances, there is little doubt that the concerted moves of the Modi government and its subsidiaries in the various States are to decisively move towards the marginalisation of Muslims across the country. While the original premise of the NRC was about rooting out illegal immigrant Muslims of Bangladesh from the border States of Assam and West Bengal, the growing commentary on nationwide NRC, to be followed by the CAB, makes it clear that the move is not just about illegal immigrant Muslims of Bangladesh. As the likes of Agarwal point out, it is only a question of time before this becomes a nationwide exercise, ultimately threatening the citizenship of Muslims anywhere in India. 

Badar Kazmi, a Deoband-based social activist and political commentator, dwelled on this aspect when he told Frontline  that the NRC-CAB exercises marked the big-time transportation of the devious Muslim marginalisation manoeuvres of the Sangh Parivar into the legal set-up. 

“Earlier, these moves had manifested as lynching in the name of the cow, harassing in the name of love jehad, curtailing public mobility through intimidation, personal attacks and engineered riots, but now it has acquired looming legal proportions. All this could or most certainly would lead to the very withdrawal of all citizenship rights of Muslims, including social security measures, eligibility to welfare policies and employment. 

The final steps in this trajectory could be mass disenfranchisement and debarment from public offices and constitutional positions. But the big question is whether the secular political opposition in the country, with its varied ideological and social hues and colours, realises the potency of this looming human catastrophe.”

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Oct 11, 2019.)

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